Friday, June 4th, 2010

The other night I got into bed the same way I always do: Sit down, rub the soles of my feet together, swing my legs under the covers, reach for a book….

“What is that?” B asked with a chuckle.

“What is what?” I answered.

“That thing with the feet,” she clarified.

“Gets the dirt off,” I told her, “like when you swat your hands together.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, nodding. “That makes sense.”

I paused and, after a moment’s reflection, asked, “I’ve been doing that for longer than we’ve been married. Have you been wondering what that was for twenty years and you haven’t asked until now?”

She had. Apparently this was the time to ask.

As I opened my inter-office mail yesterday morning I came across my termination notice and the paper I had to sign and send back to HR to make it official. My final day at the office is June 30, coincidentally the same day I signed papers to get out of the Air Force, get on a jet and fly to Madison.

Actually, as it turned out, the Air Force could get us no closer to Madison than Chicago. I had to rent a car to drive my family from O’Hare to Madison, no mean feat on the July 4th weekend. Here’s hoping things work out as well this time around.

foot rub | 7:32 pm CST
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Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

I was up awful late last night, but it was so worth it, practicing tango steps with My Darling B after we moved as much of the furniture out of the living room as possible. If we push the recliner into the front entrance, move the coffee table into the hallway and plop the beer crate in the dining room, we have just enough room to do all the tango steps we know. Really short tango steps.

The toughest part about dancing a tango is keeping step with the music. Not because the steps are so difficult: Learning the actual steps takes a lot of practice, but it’s doable for just about anybody, even doofuses like us. Finding a tune that keeps a steady beat is just about impossible, though. Most of the tango music we’ve been able to find starts out so slow we can’t do anything but stand there for an awkwardly long time, looking like lost kids in the lobby of a busy bus terminal. Then the speed picks up and has a danceable beat for about a minute and a half before it slows to a crawl again. This seems to be the rule for most tango music. I’m sure you’re supposed to be doing something very stylish when that happens, but we haven’t advanced far enough in our classes to have a clue what that might possibly be.

Since we started taking lessons, My Darling B has been checking out collections of dance music from the library. The library likes it a lot whenever B checks out music CDs because they know they’re going to make a lot of money when she forgets to bring them back on time, and she almost always forgets. The idea, of course, is to try all kinds of music free, then pay for what we like. Maybe some day we’ll figure out how to make it work out that way.

Every time she finds a CD with plenty of the music she likes, B buys a copy of it through mail order. Last week a copy of a record called “The Absolute Best Tango Album Ever.” With a name like that, it ought to be just crammed full of tunes we could dance to, right? Well, so far we’ve found two. Yarg.

The next toughest part about dancing the tango is keeping time with the music. Or maybe it’s not so tough. Maybe we’re just klutzes. That seems very likely. In either case, the trouble we were having was getting our inner timing cue, the earworm-like tango music playing in our heads, to sync up with the tango music that happened to be playing on the stereo at the time at which we were supposed to be dancing to. If there’s a failure to learning to tango the way we were taught, it’s that we ended up dancing to “Step, together, step, collect, tang! Go! Close!” and hardly listening to the music at all, except to start.

But last night we managed to find a couple tunes we could dance to, and how to make the steps to a routine we’ve been working on match the rhythm of the music we found. It was an Aha! moment worth staying up past our bed times for. Or at least I thought so until my alarm clock woke me up this morning.

tango-able | 7:33 pm CST
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Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

My Darling B was up until midnight making ice cream last night. Actually, I don’t know how late she was up. I went to bed at about eleven and laid there reading a book until eleven-thirty, but I could still hear the ice cream maker churning when I turned out the lights, and she had a big clean-up job to do after the ice cream was done, so I can only assume she didn’t turn in until well after twelve bells.

For three days she’d been threatening to do something with the avocados that had been haunting the kitchen countertop ever since she bought them last week, and last night she finally followed through. This was after we got home from our dance lesson. My guess is there was still too much adrenaline in her system after doing the mambo, and it was too dark outside to garden, so she naturally gravitated toward the kitchen.

Last summer she was jonesing for some home-made strawberry ice cream and a new kitchen gadget at the same time, so she trolled e-bay until she found an ice cream maker that attaches to the food processor she’s owned since she was, like, twelve years old. I stand in awe of determination like that.

When it finally arrived in the mail she washed it up and made strawberry ice cream that very night, if memory serves, and an awesome batch of ice cream it was, too. It literally inspired awe. I can’t remember tasting ice cream as delicious as B’s home-made ice cream, and I would have wolfed down half of it if there weren’t enough lactose in whipping cream to make my back end play the tuba part in just about any polka you can think of. As it was, I took three milk pills so I could just taste a tablespoon or two, and I still squeaked out a few notes afterwards.

I didn’t get to taste last night’s batch of avocado ice cream because I was sawing through a pretty big log by the time B was finished making it. Our group dance lesson was a jitterbug-like salsa step that gives B the energy to stay up all night, but tuckers me right out. She loves all that Latin dancing, while I’m more a waltzing kind of guy. After that and mamboing through our private lesson I only wanted to go home and go to bed, but I had a few chores to do and I wanted to read another chapter. I think I permanently damaged my willpower by staying up past eleven, though.

ice cream | 7:44 pm CST
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Monday, May 31st, 2010

image of tomato trellisYou are looking at one of the most colossal failures to come from my work shop in recent memory, or even long-term memory. I can’t remember the last time I did something this mind-bogglingly stupid. Every time I look at it, I want to drink myself into oblivion. Okay, not oblivion, just until it’s funny. Well, truth be told, it’s already kind of funny, if you’re not the guy who spent yesterday afternoon and all morning today putting it together. Sort of like watching someone step on the teeth of a rake lying in the lawn so it flips up and whaps him in the face. That kind of funny.

My Darling B plants tomatoes in her garden every year. She loves tomatoes the way I love rockets, choo-choo trains and beer, maybe even more than all three combined. While there’s still snow on the ground she raises them from pups under a grow light in the basement, forty-two dozen different kinds of them with names like Brandywine and Heritage and Great Swollen Red Zit. I made that last one up, can you tell?

She pampers them right through the spring until Memorial Day weekend when she chucks them into the ground, then keeps on pampering them as they grow and grow and grow. Lucky thing for the tomatoes, which are the morons of the plant world. They’ll grow until they’re way too big to support themselves, collapse under their own weight, and then keep on growing as they sprawl drunkenly across the ground. If left unattended, I think each plant would turn into a massive tangle of convoluted vines until it resembled a huge green brain.

But B doesn’t let that happen. She treks out to her garden every day to inspect each vine and, as they grow, she ties them up to stakes so they don’t collapse under the weight of the yummy tomatoes as they grow plump and heavy with juicy goodness. She babies each and every fruit, hoping to pluck them from the vine just as they ripen but before they do a swan dive and go splat on the ground.

Tying them to stakes works all right, but driving the stakes into the ground is a major pain in the ass, so she asked me to build her a trellis. It had to be high and wide enough to tie up many, many tomato vines. I wanted it to be simple and easy to set up. PVC pipe seemed to be the perfect solution to both our wants. It’s easy to cut, you can buy elbows and tees to join it together like a kid’s toy, and if you glue it together it doesn’t come apart, ever. That last one is going to come back to bite me in the butt at the end of this story.

I started on this project yesterday afternoon with a trip to the hardware store after lunch. I thought I had it all figured out pretty well until I got back home and tried to put it together; that’s when I found out I needed four more pieces of pipe. A quick trip to the store and I had everything … except the right bolts. I had bolts, but they were too short. I bought bolts that were long enough to go through a pipe, but not two pipes, which was pretty crucial. One more trip to the store.

(This is actually typical for one of my do-it-yourself projects: A trip to the store to get the supplies, another trip to the store to get the supplies I didn’t get the first time, and a third trip to the store to replace the wrong supplies. Making another trip after the third trip would be a bit odd, but not so much. A fifth trip would be too many, and anything after that would be just plain weird. But three’s not unusual.)

After carrying the trellis out to the garden and setting it up, we decided that it was a bit too tall and I took it apart to saw a foot off each leg. That was a little better, but I sawed another foot off each leg to make it just right. I set it up one last time, just to make sure everything looked right, then carried it out front, laid it flat on the driveway and took every joint apart so I could cement the thing together. Wouldn’t do to have it come apart in a storm.

As you may well imagine, putting the trellis back together correctly was critical. The cement is of the type that sort of melts the plastic pipe a little bit so the two surfaces join each other in a way that can’t be undone without explosives or lasers. I was very careful to review the geometry of all the parts as I put them together again, but I must have spent too much time looking at M.C. Escher drawings, because I put it together in exactly the wrong way. It wouldn’t open now without the intervention of a seriously all-powerful supernatural being. Demigods need not apply.

So this year the tomatoes get staked again, dammit.

wrong wrong WRONG | 1:58 pm CST
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Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

bunny!A quick pass with the lawn mower last Sunday uncovered the hiding place of this little guy in the tall grass next to the planter. The little pocket of grass he was curled up in didn’t look like a rabbit nest, which are usually lined with fur, so I assumed he was hiding out while his mother was away. He stayed hunkered down there even though he wasn’t hidden at all any more, so I cut the end out of a cardboard box and put it over him to keep the sun off him.

When I showed him to My Darling B she cooed, “He’s so cute!” and started worrying about him half a second later. “What’s he doing out here? Where’s his mommy? Is he okay? I hope a dog doesn’t get him!” And so on. She was so worried about him that she spent the next two hours Googling every scrap of information about wild rabbits she could find. She even called the Humane Society to see if they did wild bunny rescues the way they rescued injured birds.

The Humane Society told her not to worry, that it was normal for the mother to leave her bunnies alone all day and come back at dawn or dusk to feed them. She watched him all afternoon and, sure enough, right after dinner an adult rabbit came into the yard, wandered around for a bit to make sure the coast was clear, and then jumped up into the planter.

B just about wet her pants when three or four bunnies appeared from under the cover of the dead leaves and daisy stems in the planter to crowd around the mother and feed. “The nest’s in the planter! The nest’s in the planter!” she burbled. We’d been poking around the planter all afternoon, but somehow it had never occurred to us to look there.

As soon as the mama left, the bunnies disappeared again. B put on a pair of gardening gloves and went straight out there to scoop up the little lost bunny and put him gently back beside the nest. He seems to jump out every so often, but the mama must be finding him and putting him back. They’re almost big enough to leave the nest anyway, according to the web sites B read on the intertubes, so maybe he’s just impatient to see the world.

bunny! | 3:43 pm CST
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Monday, April 12th, 2010

mouse, miceWe have mice.

I figured the cats were keeping them down. Well, one of the cats, anyway. Bonkers is a pretty enthusiastic mouser, when one happens to cross his path, but, as it turns out, he doesn’t go out on the hunt to track them down. Boo is really very ambivalent about mice. They can come, they can go, maybe she’ll check them out when they get here, whatever.

Two or three times this winter, Bonkers brought us a mouse he caught in the basement. One morning I got up to find him batting one around on the kitchen floor. And lately I’ve been seeing little mousie calling cards all along the walls in the basement. I should have set traps before this, but, as I said, I thought the cats would be going after them so I wouldn’t have to.

Then the other day, as I was raking the cat pans, I found a trail of little black mouse turds along the wall leading behind the chimney into the next room. That solved the mystery of what they were eating. The kitty litter is wheat-based; it’d be a mouse smorgasbord, wouldn’t it? “We must have made the front page of the Monona Mouse Bulletin when we brought that stuff home,” My Darling B said. “Party at the O-Home! Don’t worry about the dumb cats!”

So how to get rid of them? On our weekend trip to the hardware store I grabbed a packet of old-fashioned mouse traps off the pegboard wall. My only worry was that the cats would be tripping them all the time and probably even get caught in them. My Darling B’s worry was that it would kill the mice.

“But they’re mice,” I pointed out.

“You want to kill them?”

“Well, no, I don’t want to kill them. Do you want them in your house?”

In the end, we agreed to try a live-catch trap, a tiny plastic box with a trap door on one end that drops and latches shut when a mouse walks into the box. I have to reset them several times a day because the cats trip them shut every time they stepped in and out of their litter pans, but this morning when I picked one of them up it was a little bit heavier than it should have been, so I upended it over this apple sauce jar and out came a mouse.

Huh. Bigger than I thought it would be.

hickory dickory dock | 3:47 pm CST
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Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

B in her gardenWith a warm spring sun still dazzling the skies over her shoulder, My Darling B turns over a forkfull of garden soil and crumbles it in her hand to see if it’s ready for planting. It looks promising. This photo was taken in the middle of last year’s potato patch.

garlic sproutingThe garlic has sprouted!

alpine strawberriesAnd the strawberries have wintered over nicely. B says these are “Alpine strawberries,” the most hearty plants she could find. They’ll survive the cold snap forecast for this weekend, she says, even if she leaves them uncovered. I certainly hope so.

in the garden | 3:07 pm CST
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